The year 2011 is remembered as the year of the ‘Arab Spring”, a period in the world’s history marked with a series of revolutions, protests and wars aimed in overthrowing corrupt and autocratic governments and an increased demand for equality and social rights in the Arab world. Starting in a “self-immolation” act of a market seller in Tunisia, the awareness that fuelled the collapse of autocracy and the increased demand for change have brought the widespread protests in Bahrain and Egypt, civil wars in Libya and Syria, and government concessions in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
An interesting point in this case is the role of Facebook and Twitterin spearheading political and social change in a society perceived to be unjust, corrupt and antiquated. With the increasing globalization and easement of communication barriers, the Internet is increasingly becoming a platform for a faster and more accurate dissemination of information that can fuel discontent, provide support for a specific cause or debate, and inform its subscribers (or netizens) on the specificities of an event or issue. This enabled a mass dissemination of information likened to the spread of a “virus”. Social media, according to Anderson (2009) is also seen to be an alternative to the mainstream and commercial media (Radio, TV and Print) where it can be prone for misinformation, censorship and bias in favour of the ruling government.
In the Philippines, social media usage is ubiquitous and popular especially among the youth aged 15-29 years. A study conducted by Nielsen (2011) said that approximately three out of ten Filipino consumers have internet access and 52% of these consumers have direct internet access in their own homes. Additionally, the Philippines is considered to be one of the countries reporting a high usage of Facebook and Twitter among the total internet users where it is currently ranked 8th and 6thin the world, respectively. Recent data from Socialbakers.com (2012) shows that 93.13% of those who have access to internet have access to Facebook, consisting of more than 30 million users or 30% of the total population. These data provides an important insight on the possible role of these sites in shaping and influencing Filipino society and discourse, characterized with the appearance of groups, vigilant “netizens” and news links embedded in these sites.
Through the years, these social media sites are increasingly being used to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction on a public issue, or create discussions to voice rising discontent on unpopular government policies. One issue that can be looked upon is the potential of these arenas to mobilize and enhance civic engagements through the encouragement of debates and lively discussions presenting the different sides and perspectives. This puts into analysis an important question. What is a civil society? And how does it develop the arenas for public engagement and action? Civil Societies and Public Spheres
According to several theorists and academics, civil society is an entity autonomous to the state that establishes a “space for uncoerced human association” (Walzer, as cited in Young, 2004; p.156). Civil societies are also entities that promote “trust, choice and virtues of democracy”, and being autonomous state actors can provide avenues for the emergence of arenas that will enable the general public to engage in the issues that are considered to be of a wider scope (Habermas, 2000; p.52). These “public spheres” are considered by Young (2000; p.155) to hatch in civil societies, since it enables members of the social sphere to “express their experiences and formulate opinions”. She further insinuates that civil society provides opportunities for citizens, disenchanted by the corruption of the mass media and its possible ties to the state,...